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Kyrgyz Republic

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion, the right to practice or not practice a religion, individually or jointly with other persons, and the right to refuse to express one’s religious views. It bans actions inciting religious hatred.

The constitution establishes the separation of religion and state. It prohibits the establishment of religiously based political parties and the pursuit of political goals by religious groups. The constitution prohibits the establishment of any religion as a state or mandatory religion.

The law states all religions and religious groups are equal. It prohibits the involvement of minors in organized, proselytizing religious groups, “insistent attempts to convert followers of one religion to another (proselytism),” and, “illegal missionary activity,” defined as missionary activity of groups not registered with the State Commission on Religious Affairs (SCRA).

The law requires all religious groups, and religiously affiliated schools, to register with the SCRA, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the law’s provisions on religion. The law prohibits activity by unregistered religious groups. Groups applying for registration must submit an application form, organizational charter, minutes of an institutional meeting, and a list of founding members to the SCRA for review. Each congregation of a religious group must register separately and must have at least 200 founding resident citizens. Foreign religious organizations are required to renew their registration with the SCRA annually.

The SCRA is legally authorized to deny the registration of a religious group if it does not comply with the law or is considered a threat to national security, social stability, interethnic and interdenominational harmony, public order, health, or morality. The SCRA may also deny or postpone the certification of a particular religious group if it deems the proposed activities of the group are not religious in character. Denied applicants may reapply or may appeal to the courts. Unregistered religious groups are prohibited from actions such as renting space and holding religious services. Violations may result in an administrative fine of 500 soms ($7).

After the SCRA has approved a group’s registration as a religious entity, the group must register with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to obtain status as a legal entity so it may own property, open bank accounts, and otherwise engage in contractual activities. The organization must submit an application to the MOJ, which includes a group charter with an administrative structure and a list of board and founding members. If a religious group engages in a commercial activity, it is required to pay taxes. By law, religious groups are designated as nonprofit organizations exempt from taxes on their religious activities.

The law gives the SCRA authority to ban a religious group as long as the SCRA delivers written notice to the group stating it is not in compliance with the law. The group may appeal the decision in the courts.

The law prohibits religious groups from “involvement in organizational activities aimed at inciting ethnic, racial, or religious hatred.” A conviction for inciting ethnic, racial or religious hatred may lead to a prison term of three to eight years while a conviction for creating an organization aimed at inciting ethnic, racial or religious hatred may lead to a term of five to 10 years. Murder committed on the grounds of religious hatred is punishable by life imprisonment.

In April President Atambaev signed into law a measure mandating separate prison facilities for prisoners convicted of “terrorism” and “extremism.” In August he signed into law a measure stripping the citizenship of any Kyrgyz national convicted of terrorism or extremism.

According to the law, only individuals representing registered religious organizations may conduct missionary activity. If a foreign missionary represents an organization approved by the SCRA, the individual foreign missionary must apply for a visa with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Visas are valid for up to one year and a missionary is allowed to work three consecutive years in the country. All religious foreign entities, including missionaries, must operate within these restrictions and must reregister annually. Representatives of religious groups acting inconsistently with the law may be fined or deported. Violations of the law may result in fines in the amount of 1000 soms ($14), and deportation in the case of foreign missionaries.

The law provides for the right of religious groups to produce, import, export, and distribute religious literature and materials in accordance with established procedures, which include examination by state “experts.” The law does not define the criteria for religious expert. The law prohibits the distribution of religious literature and materials in public locations or in visits to individual households, schools, and other institutions. The law specifies fines based on the nature of the violations.

The law allows public secular schools an option to offer religion courses which discuss the history and character of religions as long as the subject of such teaching is not religious doctrine and does not promote any particular religion. Private religious schools need to register with SCRA to operate as such.

According to the law, religion is grounds for conscientious objection to and exemption from military service. Conscientious objectors must pay a fee of 18,000 soms ($260) to opt out of military service. Draft-eligible males must pay the fee before turning 27 years of age. Failure to pay by the age limit will require the person to perform 240 hours of community service or a fine of up to 20,000 soms ($289). Draft-eligible men who evade military service and do not fall under an exemption are subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to two years. There is no option to perform alternative service.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the country a secular state and religious associations shall be separate from the state and “shall not interfere in state affairs.” According to the constitution, everyone has the right individually or jointly to adhere to any religion or to adhere to no religion, and to take part in religious customs and ceremonies.

The law prohibits provoking religious-based hatred, enmity, or conflict, as well as humiliating and harming the religious sentiments of other citizens.

The law defines extremism as the activities of individuals and organizations aimed at destabilization, subverting the constitutional order, or seizing power. This definition includes inciting religious and other forms of hatred.

The law recognizes the “special status” of Sunni Islam’s Hanafi school of jurisprudence with respect to the country’s culture and spiritual life.

The law defines any group of people who join together for religious purposes as a religious association. These associations are formed for the aim of “conducting joint religious worship” and are subdivided into religious organizations and religious communities. In order to operate legally, religious associations and organizations are required to register with the government, a process overseen by the CRA.

In order to register a religious organization, a group of at least 10 persons over the age of 18 must first obtain a certificate from the local authorities confirming that adherents of their religious faith have lived in the local area for at least five years. The group must then submit to the CRA proof of the citizenship of its founders, along with the home address and date of birth of each. The group must also provide an account of its beliefs and religious practices and describe its attitudes related to education, family, and marriage, and provide documentation on the health of its adherents. As part of its submission, a religious group must list its “national religious centers, central cathedral mosques (facilities built for Friday prayers), central jamoatkhona (prayer places), religious educational institutions, churches, synagogues, and other forms not contradicting the law.” The group must specify in its charter the activities it plans to undertake, and, once registered as a religious organization, must report annually on its activities or face deregistration.

Religious communities include cathedral mosques and mosques where prayers are recited five times per day. These communities are required to register both locally and nationally, and must be registered “without the formation of a legal personality.” Religious communities must adhere to the “essence and limits of activity” set out in their charters.

The law provides penalties for religious associations which engage in activities contrary to the purposes and objectives set out in their charter, and assigns responsibility to the CRA for handing down fines for such offenses. The law imposes fines for violating its provisions on organizing and conducting religious activities; providing religious education without permission; performing prayers, religious rites, and ceremonies in undesignated places; and performing activities beyond the purposes and objectives defined by the charter of the religious association. Individuals are subject to fines of 280 to 400 somoni ($36-$51) for these offenses, heads of religious associations are fined 800 to 1,200 somoni ($103-$154), and registered religious associations, as legal entities themselves, are subject to fines of 4,000 to 8,000 somoni ($513-$1,026). For offenses committed repeatedly within a year after the original offense, fines are increased to 480 to 800 somoni ($62-$103) for individuals, 1,600 to 2,000 somoni ($205-$256) for heads of religious associations, and 12,000 to 16,000 somoni ($1,538-$2,051) for the registered religious associations.

If a religious association conducts activities without obtaining registration or reregistration, local authorities may force a place of worship to close, and fine each member from 280-400 somoni ($36-$51) for first time individual offenders, 800-1,200 somoni ($103-$154) for religious association leaders, and 4,000-8,000 somoni ($513-$1,026) for the unregistered religious association as an entity. In case of repetition of the same offense within one year, the authorities may levy fines of 480-800 somoni ($62-$103) for repeat individual offenders, 1,600-2,000 somoni ($205-$256) for religious association leaders, and 12,000-16,000 somoni ($1,538-$2,051) for the religious associations themselves.

The CRA is the government body primarily responsible for overseeing and implementing all provisions of the law pertaining to religion. The Center for Islamic Studies, under the president’s executive office, helps formulate the government’s policy toward religion.

The law restricts Islamic prayer to four locations: mosques, cemeteries, homes, and shrines. The law regulates registration, size, and location of mosques, limiting the number of mosques which may be registered within a given population area. “Friday” mosques, which conduct larger Friday prayers as well as prayers five times per day, are allowed in districts with populations of 10,000 to 20,000 persons; “five-time” mosques, which conduct only daily prayers five times per day, are allowed in areas with populations of 100 to 10,000. In Dushanbe, Friday mosques are allowed in areas with 30,000 to 50,000 persons, and five-time mosques are allowed in areas with populations of 1,000 to 5,000. The law allows one “central Friday mosque” per district or city, and makes other mosques subordinate to it.

Mosques function on the basis of their self-designed charters in buildings constructed by government approved religious organizations or by individual citizens, or with the assistance of the general population. The law states the selection of imam-khatibs and imams shall take place in coordination with “the appropriate state body in charge of religious affairs” (i.e., the CRA must approve the imam-khatibs and imams elected by the founders of each mosque). The CRA regulates and formulates the content of Friday sermons.

The law regulates private celebrations, including weddings, funeral services, and celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The law limits the number of guests and controls ceremonial gift presentations and other rituals. The law states mass worship, religious traditions, and ceremonies shall be carried out according to the procedures for holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, and peaceful processions prescribed elsewhere in the law.

The law prohibits children under 18 years of age from participating in “public religious activities,” including attending worship services at public places of worship. Children are allowed to attend religious funerals and to practice religion at home, under parental guidance. The law allows children to participate in religious activities as part of specific educational programs at authorized religious institutions.

The law allows registered religious organizations to produce, export, import, and distribute an unspecified amount of religious literature with the advance consent of the appropriate state authorities. Only registered religious organizations are entitled to establish enterprises to produce literature and material with religious content. Such literature and material must indicate the full name of the religious organization producing it. The law allows the government authorities to levy fines for the production, export, import, sale, or distribution of religious literature without permission from the CRA. According to the law, violators are subject to fines of up to 2,800 somoni ($359) for individuals, 6,000 somoni ($769) for government officials (who distribute or produce literature without permission), and 12,000 somoni ($1,538) for legal entities, a category including organizations of any kind as well as registered religious associations.

The law requires all institutions or groups wishing to provide religious instruction to obtain permission from the CRA. Central district mosques may operate madrassahs, which are open only to high school graduates. Other mosques, if registered with the government, may provide part-time religious instruction for younger students.

With written parental consent, the law allows minors between the ages of seven and 18 to obtain religious instruction provided by a registered religious organization outside of mandatory school hours. According to the law, this kind of extracurricular religious education may not duplicate religious instruction already part of the school curriculum. The CRA is responsible for monitoring mosques throughout the country to ensure implementation of these provisions.

Parents may teach religion to their children at home, provided the child expresses a desire to learn. The law forbids religious instruction at home to individuals outside the immediate family. The law maintains restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, and for establishing ties with religious organizations abroad without CRA consent. To be eligible to study religion abroad, students must complete a higher education degree domestically and be enrolled at a university accredited in the country in which it operates. The law provides for fines of 2,000 to 4,000 somoni ($256 to $513) for violating these restrictions.

In a May 22 constitutional referendum, voters approved a package of 40 proposed amendments, including one banning the creation of political parties based on religion. As a result of the referendum, the constitution now prohibits political parties of “a religious nature.”

The constitution prohibits “propaganda and agitation” encouraging religious enmity.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for separation of religion and state. It states religious organizations and associations shall be separate from the state and equal before the law and the state shall not interfere in the activity of religious associations.

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and states everyone has the right to profess or not to profess any religion. The law provides for freedom of worship and freedom from religious persecution, but grants the government authority to restrict these freedoms when the government deems such restrictions “necessary to maintain national security, social order, life, health, morality, and the rights or freedoms of other citizens.”

The law requires all religious groups to register. Among the requirements, the law states each group must present a membership list of at least 100 citizens, age 18 years or older, belonging to the group and a charter with a legal, physical address to the local branch of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). It also requires notarized documents stating the leading founding members have the religious education necessary to preach their faith, the group’s sources of income, and the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA, which reports to the Cabinet of Ministers) concurrence to registration. The law requires local governments to concur in registration of groups in their areas and that the group present a “guarantee letter” from local government authorities stating the legal and postal addresses of the organization conform to all legal requirements (including statements from the main architectural division, sanitary-epidemiological services, fire services, and locally selected neighborhood committees). By law, the MOJ may take one to three months to review a registration application. The MOJ may approve or deny the registration, or cease review without the issuance of a decision. Registration of a central administrative body requires registered religious groups to be present in at least eight of the country’s 14 administrative units, which may include Karakalpakstan and Tashkent city. The religious groups thus registered may expand throughout the country and have appropriate buildings, organize religious teaching, and possess religious literature.

The law limits the operations of a registered group to those areas where it is registered. The law grants only registered religious groups the right to establish schools and train clergy.

The criminal code distinguishes between “illegal” groups, which are those not registered properly, and “prohibited” groups viewed as “extremist.” It is a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of four million to eight million som ($1,200-$2,400), to organize or participate in an illegal religious group. The law also specifically prohibits persuading others to join illegal religious groups with penalties of up to three years in prison. The criminal code provides penalties of up to 20 years in prison for organizing or participating in the activities of religious extremist, fundamentalist, separatist, or other prohibited groups. Aside from joining an extremist group, charges of religious extremism may include the offenses of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and terrorism.

In 2015, the latest year for which figures were available, there are 2,238 registered religious groups representing 16 denominations. There are 2,064 Muslim groups (affiliated with mosques, educational institutions, and Islamic centers). Among the Muslim groups are several Shia congregations. Registered minority religious groups include ethnic Korean Christian, Russian Orthodox, Baptist, Pentecostal (Full Gospel), Seventh-day Adventist, Jewish, Catholic, Bahai, Lutheran, New Apostolic, Armenian Apostolic, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Krishna Consciousness, Temple of Buddha, and Christian Voice of God Church communities, as well as one interconfessional Bible society.

The CRA oversees registered religious activity. The Council for Confessions, under the CRA, includes ex-officio representatives from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish groups, and discusses ways of ensuring compliance with the law, the rights, and responsibilities of religious organizations and believers, and other issues related to religion.

The criminal and administrative codes contain penalties for violating the law and other statutes on religious activities. The law punishes proselytism with up to three years in prison. It proscribes efforts to draw minors into religious organizations without the permission of their parents and prohibits the wearing of religious attire in public places by all except clergy and individuals serving in leadership positions of officially recognized religious organizations. Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal. After an offender is punished for a violation under the administrative code, a repeat offense may be tried under the criminal code.

Under the law, state bodies, including neighborhood committees and nonstate and noncommercial public organizations have wide-ranging powers to combat suspected “antisocial activity” in cooperation with police. These powers include preventing the activity of unregistered religious organizations, ensuring observance of rights of citizens to religious freedoms, prohibiting forced propagation of religious views, and considering other questions related to observance of the law.

The law requires religious groups to obtain a license to publish or distribute materials. It limits the right to publish, import, and distribute religious literature solely to registered central offices of religious groups and only following approval by the CRA. Under a Cabinet of Ministers decree, the CRA must conduct a review of any “religious materials” imported, produced, or distributed. The decree defines religious materials as books, magazines, newspapers, brochures, leaflets, audiovisual items (including animated material), CDs, DVDs, and materials posted to the internet “describing the origins, history, ideology, teachings, commentaries, and rituals of various religions of the world.” The decree also requires the CRA to compile an annual list of religious materials banned for import, production, or distribution.

According to the law, individuals in possession of literature by authors the government deems to be extremists or of any literature illegally imported or produced are subject to arrest and prosecution. The administrative code punishes “illegal production, storage, import, or distribution of materials of religious content” with a fine of 20 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage of 130,240 som ($40) for individuals. The fine for government officials committing the same offense is 50 to 150 times the minimum monthly wage. The administrative code permits the confiscation of the materials and the “corresponding means of producing and distributing them.” The criminal code imposes a fine of 100 to 200 times the minimum monthly wage or corrective labor of up to three years for these offenses for acts committed subsequent to a judgment rendered under the administrative code.

The law allows only those religious groups with a registered central administrative body to train religious personnel. Nine specialized Islamic training schools, including one for women, and an Orthodox and a Protestant seminary may officially train religious personnel.

The law requires imams to graduate from a recognized religious education facility and register for a license with the government. The Muslim Board of Uzbekistan assigns a graduate to a particular mosque as a deputy imam before becoming an imam later.

The law limits religious instruction to officially sanctioned religious schools and state-approved instructors. Otherwise, the law prohibits the teaching of religious subjects in public schools. It does not permit nonstate approved private religious instruction and imposes fines for violations.

Nine madrassahs, including one for women, provide secondary education on a full range of secular subjects. The Cabinet of Ministers considers diplomas granted by madrassahs equivalent to other diplomas, enabling graduates of those institutions to continue their education at the university level. In addition, the Tashkent Islamic Institute and the Tashkent Islamic University, which is a secular institution, provide higher education religion programs. There is no other officially sanctioned religious instruction for individuals interested in learning about Islam.

The law allows those who object to military service on the basis of their religious beliefs to perform alternative civilian service.

The constitution prohibits the formation of political parties based on religious principles as well as political parties and public associations advocating religious hostility.

The law restricts the activities of faith-based NGOs. It prohibits religious activities outside of formal worship, as well as religious gatherings intended for children under 16 years old, and the creation of faith-based activity groups deemed by the government to be unrelated to acts of worship.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future